ODs have an obligation to discuss obesity with patients
As optometrists, we see ourselves in the business of helping people see better, and while that is very true, we do so much more. We are in the business of making people look better and feel better.
It often comes by way of providing visual correction through a stylish eyeglass frame or colored contact lenses. It also results from supporting their decision to pursue an aesthetic blepharoplasty. Or it might be as simple as providing an adolescent with his or her first pair of contact lenses. In each and every encounter we have the opportunity to help our patients not only see better, but look and feel better as well.
While we have all become quite adept in doing so, we are often guilty of one shortcoming. We work our magic from the orbital rim up – failing to recognize that our efforts could have more far-reaching implications. These implications could impact the entire body ... and include conditions such as obesity.
The CDC reminds us that more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and that obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer are among the leading causes of preventable death. In 2008 alone, obesity cost the U.S. an estimated $147 billion, with annual medical costs of obese individuals approximately $1,400 more than their non-obese peers.
If the mortality and financial stakes alone are not staggering enough, there is the stark reality of living with obesity. Like many other chronic diseases, obesity takes its toll on an individual. It can result in an individual not only feeling poorly, but also feeling poorly about themselves. Strauss has suggested that obesity-related poor self-esteem manifests as early as adolescence and is especially likely to occur in females. While obesity is a tough subject to approach, it is certainly a subject that is far better discussed than ignored.
As optometrists, we are in a unique position in which to influence obesity in a positive way. For starters, we are often the only health care provider many obese young adults ever see. We are also a fairly compassionate group who takes their patients’ problems seriously. Perhaps most importantly, we tie everything into the most precious of senses – vision. As we do so often with other conditions, it only makes sense that we counsel our patients with obesity.
What is especially fascinating is that the recommendations we offer our obese patients are really no different than those we provide for a variety of other conditions. In the spirit of slowing myopia progression, we have no problem suggesting children spend more time exercising outdoors. We routinely counsel diabetic patients regarding prudent dietary and lifestyle choices in an effort to prevent retinopathy. We tout the benefits of a diet rich in carotenoid-laden vegetables to the patient with a family history of age-related macular degeneration. All of this is sound advice for obese individuals and advice that mitigates associated systemic health conditions and their ocular sequelae.
I certainly do not mean to trivialize the intricacies and complexities of obesity. Nor do I espouse optometry as the salvation for those afflicted with this disease. However, as health care providers, I believe we have an obligation to acknowledge and address what has become an epidemic in our society and in our practices. If done so in a compassionate and tactful manner, it could very well be the message that resonates with a given patient. It could be the first step in a journey to not only seeing well, but looking and feeling better. It is what we do.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult obesity facts. www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html. Updated September 21, 2015. Accessed August 1, 2016.
- Strauss RS. Pediatrics. 2000;105(1):e15.